Women represent the fasted growing population in prison. Between 1980 and 1993, the growth rate for the female prison population increased approximately 313%, compared to 182% for men in the same period. At the end of 1993 women accounted for 5.8% of the total prison population and 9.3% of the jail population nationwide.

Women prisoners are disproportionately women of color, with African American women comprising 46% of the population nationwide, White women comprising 36%, and Hispanic Women comprising 14%.

Incarcerated women are overwhelmingly poor. The majority of women prisoners (53%) and women in jail (74%) were unemployed prior to incarceration.

When women go to prison, it takes a devastating toll on the family. Sixty seven per cent of women incarcerated in state prisons are mothers of children under 18. Seventy percent of these women compared to 50% of men had custody of their dependent children prior to incarceration.

Six per cent of women are pregnant when they enter prison. In almost all cases, the woman is abruptly separated from her child after giving birth.

Women prisoners report significant histories of domestic violence. Thirty-two percent of women in prison (approximately 4,000 women) serving sentences for murder were convicted of killing a husband, ex-husband or boyfriend.

Because there are fewer prison facilities for women, an incarcerated woman is ordinarily much farther away from her home and family than the average male prisoner. This increased distance causes substantial transportation problems for children of prisoners and as a result deprives women prisoners of contract with their children.

While medical care for all prisoners is poor, the situation is far worse for women prisoners. Because prison health care systems were created for men, routine gynecological care, such as pap smears, breast exams and mammograms, is extremely rare in prisons. Care is frequently only administered once the situation becomes an emergency.

Sources: National Women's Law Center, Washington, D.C., and Chicago Legal Aid to Incarcerated Mothers.

BACK to Walking Steel Index